I grew up in a small town, and have spent most of my life in small towns — most below the population of 4,000 people. I now live in a “city” of about 29,000 people which is by no means big — but is considered a “a small city” by the state of New York. What I find interesting is that no matter where I have lived, all these places have a summer tradition that is rarely talked about: the library booksale.
When I was 19, I had a summer job working at my home town’s library. A dream job, to be sure, I loved the work. One of my jobs was to help organize and run the annual library booksale. It was such a huge event that people talked about it for months ahead of time. And then, the morning of the event, people would line up hours before we opened the doors — just so they could buy the teenage Harlequin Romances at 10 cents a pop, or find a “rare” Stephen King hardback for fifty cents, or (gasp! What a bargain!) buy five volumes of Readers Digest Condensed Books for one dollar! And sometimes, the customers would get vicious. I swear one time two little old ladies attacked each other because one “stole” the other’s rare find of a battered Victoria Holt novel!
When I moved to Jamestown, I was pleased (and somewhat shocked — I was beginning to think that people were losing interest in reading) to see the same lines of people, the same piles of books being dragged out the front doors, and I swear, the same little old ladies fighting over paperbacks at their annual library sale. Jamestown’s sale is huge — with thousands of books. I always wait until the initial crowd is through before I venture into the musty paradise of used books. Most of the time, I pick up novels or nature books. There’s not much in the poetry section, usually just tattered copies of Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. Still, I can always find some kind of treasure.
So, what did I come home with this year? Well, a few novels, a book or two about nature, a few hardbacks about baseball history (for Anthony — he’s the sports fan), and a history book or two. The real find? Poet Kate Daniels’ The Niobe Poems, a collection she published after her first book The White Wave. Kate Daniels was one of the first contemporary poets who inspired me to write, but I have never been able to get a hold of The Niobe Poems. But there it was — squeezed between a ripped collection of Best Loved Poems (by whom, I’m not sure) and an old Norton collection of English Verse. To my knowledge, The Niobe Poems has been out of print for some time, so I’m excited to add this book to my summer reading list.
I love library sales. Loved them when I was a teen, continue to love them. They are a great benefit to the community. Beyond the rows and rows of romances (not my cup of tea reading, but they sell well), it’s great to see teens pawing through the classics and elderly men lugging history books. And I can always find a little kid who has wandered off to read a Little House on a Prairie book or a Nancy Drew mystery. Besides, where else can you pick up a book about alien abductions or the conspiracies of the US Government without anyone batting an eyelash at your purchases!